FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas has a new defensive coordinator in Barry Odom and he has a versatile room at safety.
One of the leaders is junior Joe Foucha who started all 12 games in 2019. Foucha finished with 87 tackles, good for third on team behind two linebackers, 44 solo, one for loss, an interception,four pass breakups, one quarterback hurry and a recovered fumble. The defense had a big scrimmage this past Friday.
“We should not get satisfied by what happened Friday,” Foucha said. “Coach Odom told us moving forward we should focus on one day at a time and getting better every day as a defense.”
The scrimmage was a big turnaround from the previous Friday when the offense dominated. What caused the turnaround?
“On that play, it was more from a mental standpoint,” Foucha said. “They got after us pretty good that day (first scrimmage), so just out mental errors, we got all those fixed right away starting with Monday. We eliminated those errors we had.”
Tuesday was the 13th practice this preseason leaving 12 more to go before opening the season against Georgia. Where’s the team at considering you are basically halfway through preseason work?
“I feel like we’re in a pretty good spot,” Foucha said. “We’re communicating more. There are some little things we can fix, but as far as that, we’re all together as one in the safety room. Even if you include the corners. Us just taking the next step to get ready for the Georgia game is to get ready mentally. The physical part is pretty much over with.”
Foucha is a big fan of what Odom has brought to Arkansas’ defense from Missouri, where he was the head coach.
“It fits us,” Foucha said of Odom’s defense. “I love it. I love this defense. It puts me in the best spots. It puts all our corners in the best position, not being just one-dimensional. Our nickel, the defense, this is the first time introducing me in this scheme, planning it. I love it. It feels like it has been with me because of how Coach Odom teaches it to us and how enthusiastic he is about it.”
Has it been a hard defense to learn considering it’s a multiple one?
“I thought it would be hard to learn, but it’s pretty basic to us,” Foucha said. “I mean, it doesn’t look basic. But it’s not a lot of crazy blitz things going on. It’s pretty much basic.”
Foucha described the terms used to describe the safeties in Odom’s defense.
“We call boundary safety and strong safety,” Foucha said. “We’ve got Catalon at strong safety, Myles Mason. Micahh Smith at boundary safety. Simeon Blair, he kind of moves back and forth to strong and boundary. In this defense our safeties are interchangeable, so whatever we do this side we do on the other side.”
Foucha likes the cohesiveness of the secondary under Odom and Sam Carter who handles the cornerbacks.
“You hit it on the nose,” Foucha said. “There will be times when I’m in thirds and I know I have a middle read safety and I can play on the post, on the corner. It’ll be little things like that in our defense that we’re being taught every day, the ins and outs of the defense. That’s why I say going into the Georgia game, it’s going to be more mental because I feel like we all know where we’re supposed to be at on the field, so it’s just going to be us taking that next step.”
Odom was 4-0 against the Razorbacks as a head coach. Foucha and the Hogs’ final game of the 2019 season was against Odom’s Tigers in Little Rock. Foucha is pleased that Odom will be on this side of the field this time.
“When he first got here, we met each other and we hit it off,” Foucha said. “Ever since then, he told me he was going to be hard on me and I love it because he’s coaching me up every day, technique and just being a leader and things like that. Coach Odom, I love him. I’ll say it again, I love his scheme and I love what he’s doing with this defensive group.”
Arkansas has been 2-10 each of the past two seasons. It didn’t appear the players had the buy-in factor under Chad Morris that maybe was required. How is the buy-in factor with this staff?
“I feel we can be successful because we’re surrounded by coaches who are pushing us in practice, to thud up, to go hard, to do this and do that,” Foucha said. “I feel we’re doing it the right way. We’re staying safe in practice and just the push and drive we have as a team. I feel like this scheme we’re in will make us play even harder because we’re not uncomfortable in a lot of situations. We’re always calm and collected. All of our practices are game-like situations. They put us in a lot of game-like situations, so I feel like everything we’re seeing at practice, we’re going to get in a game and we’re even more physical in practice.”
Blair and Smith both had some big plays at the recent scrimmage.
“Those guys have been here and they’ve actually got a lot of talent, and in this defense they get to showcase that,” Foucha said. “Those guys balled out in the scrimmage Friday.”
One of the prizes of Sam Pittman’s first recruiting class at Arkansas was the addition of safety Myles Slusher from Broken Arrow, Okla., High School. He has already impressed Foucha.
“He has a lot of technique for a safety,” Foucha said. “He’s physical, he can cover guys. That’s my little brother, so I talk to him every day, just giving him the ins and outs of being in the SEC, because he has everything. From what I’ve seen, he has everything a safety should have. It’s just the little things I tell him. He’s going to be really, really great here, really great.”
Arkansas will hold a night practice on Thursday.